George R.R. Martin has no patience with mini-rooms and how they make it impossible for new writers to succeed.
In his latest blog post, the author talks about how he got his start in TV by writing for The Twilight Zone in 1985. Had it not been for the old system where writers worked their way up, he never would have learned how to actually make a series.
“For the first fourteen years of my career, I wrote only prose; a few novels, and lots of stories for Analog, Asimov’s, and various other SF magazines and anthologies. Much as I enjoyed television, I never dreamt of writing for it until 1985, when CBS decided to launch a new version of The Twilight Zone, and executive producer Phil DeGuere invited me to write an episode for them. A freelance script; that was how you began back then. I decided to give it a shot… and Phil and his team liked what I did. So much so that within days of delivery, I got an offer to come on staff. Before I quite knew what had happened, I was on my way to LA with a six-week deal as a Staff Writer, at the Guild minimum salary, scripts against. (In the 80s, Staff Writer was the lowest rung on the ladder. You could tell, because it was the only job with “writer” in the title).”
“What I knew about television production when I got off that plane at Burbank was… well, so minimal I can’t think of a pithy analogy. But I learned. I learned in the writers’ room from Phil himself and the amazing staff he had assembled for TZ: Jim Crocker, Rockne S. O’Bannon, the incredible Alan Brennert, Michael Cassutt, and a bevy of fantastic freelancers. And not just about dialogue and structure and the language of scriptwriting. I learned about production as well. The moment I arrived, Phil threw me into the deep end. I wrote five scripts during my season and a half on TZ, and I was deeply involved in every aspect of every one of them. I did not just write my script, turn it in, and go away. I sat in on the casting sessions. I worked with the directors. I was present at the table reads. “The Last Defender of Camelot” was the first of my scripts to go into production, and I was on set every day. I watched the stuntmen rehearse the climactic sword fight (in the lobby of the ST ELSEWHERE set, as it turned out), and I was present when they shot that scene and someone zigged when he should have zagged and a stuntman’s nose was cut off… a visceral lesson as to the kind of thing that can go wrong. With Phil and Jim and Harvey Frand (our line producer, another great guy who taught me a lot), I watched dailies every day. After the episode was in the can, I sat in on some post-production, and watched the editors work their magic. I learned from them too.”
“There is no film school in the world that could have taught me as much about television production as I learned on Twilight Zone during that season and a half,” continued Martin while describing his first 10 years of TV — “long before HBO and Game of Thrones.”
“NONE OF IT would have been possible, if not for the things I learned on Twilight Zone as a Staff Writer and Story Editor,” he continued. “I was the most junior of junior writers, maybe a hot(ish) young writer in the world of SF, but in TV I was so green that I would have been invisible against a green screen. And that, in my opinion, is the most important of the things that the Guild is fighting for. The right to have that kind of career path. To enable new writers, young writers, and yes, prose writers, to climb the same ladder.”
Martin goes on to call mini-rooms an “abomination.”
Before the WGA launched its strike, it had proposed minimum staffing for episodic TV writers rooms. For pre-greenlight rooms, it proposed “minimum staff of six writers, including four Writer-Producers.” For post-greenlight rooms, it proposed “one writer per episode up to six episodes, then one additional writer required for each two episodes after six, up to a maximum of 12 writers. Example: eight episodes requires seven writers including four Writer-Producers; 10 episodes requires eight writers including five Writer-Producers.”
See the WGA’s proposals here.
Continued Martin, “The refusal of the AMPTP to pay writers to stay with their shows through production — as part of the job, for which they need to be paid, not as a tourist — is not only wrong, it is incredibly short sighted. If the Story Editors of 2023 are not allowed to get any production experience, where do the studios think the Showrunners of 2033 are going to come from?”
You can read Martin’s entire blog post here.
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